This month, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced that a California food manufacturer will pay $650,000 as a result of their illegal worker misclassification. Briefly, the employer failed to pay overtime wages to employees it misclassified as independent contractors and exempt from overtime. In October 2022, the DOL published a proposed independent contractor rule to prevent worker misclassification. The proposed rule would apply a six-factor economic reality test to classifying employees versus independent contractors.

The FLSA and Worker Misclassification

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is the country’s primary federal wage and hour law and one of five main employment laws all businesses must know. As such, the FLSA provides a minimum wage and overtime protections for virtually all U.S. workers. Generally, the FLSA requires private sector and government employers to pay a federal minimum wage of not less than $7.25 an hour and an overtime pay rate of one and one-half the regular pay rate during hours worked over 40 a week.

However, some employers illegally and inaccurately classify their workers as independent contractors to avoid paying required overtime. What’s more, this illegal worker misclassification denies employees benefits and protections to which they are legally entitled. It’s worth noting that misclassifying employees is illegal even if the employee agrees to the erroneous classification. Independent contractors differ from employees in that they:

  • control their own workload or run their own business,
  • provide their own materials,
  • work with multiple clients, and
  • deal with temporary client relationships.

Background of the Worker Misclassification Case

An investigation by the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) found that the employer misclassified delivery drivers as independent contractors. In doing so, the employer denied the workers overtime wages for any hours worked over 40 in a workweek. Along with the illegal worker misclassification, the employer failed to keep accurate employee records for these drivers. Additionally, investigators found that the employer forced many workers to enter into arbitration agreements to handle employment disputes outside of court. However, private arbitration agreements do not prevent the DOL from filing its own lawsuit.

Consent Judgment in the Case

In April 2023, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California (the Court) entered its consent judgment. The consent judgment requires the employer to pay back wages in the amount of $650,000 to 26 delivery drivers. Furthermore, the Court forbade the employer permanently from violating the FLSA. Specifically, the employer must ensure that they pay any current and future employees who work more than 40 hours in a workweek the required overtime rate of time-and-one-half.